The Basics of Scientific Writing: Part 1

Like everything in life, scientific writing requires a basic understanding of what is entailed before you can produce an excellent scientific article, whether as a research, review or conference paper. This basic understanding will make the whole process easier for you. So, let’s get into it.

1/ Write to communicate, not to impress

Your goal as a scientific writer is to communicate your idea or finding to your readers, and not to impress them. While a desirable impression may be to ensure that your material is clear and interesting to read for your readers, it is totally unnecessary to show that you are more intelligent than your readers. This mistake is made when you try to use terminologies that are not known or difficult to understand by your readers. Note that some of the people who may be reading your work won’t be experts in your field. They may be people simply interested in the topic.

2/ Follow the instructions

Whether you are submitting your manuscript for journal publication or for a conference, due diligence requires you find out what are the instructions and ensure you follow them. This is sometimes a big problem, if you have to re-submit an already prepared manuscript to a different journal as a result of rejection by another journal. Irrespective of that, every journal has it’s instructions and authors guide. A good indicator of an excellent science writer is to know what the instructions are before you start writing or preparing your manuscript for submission or re-submission to any journal.Failure to do so may mean automatic rejection of your manuscript.

3/ Use good models

As a beginner, it is important to see what other experienced researchers are doing when it comes to writing. As a matter of fact, “good scientific writing is largely a matter of imitation.” When you read good papers (you’ll know by it citation index, i.e. how much it has been cited by other writers) you will see the style and structure in which it is presented. You’ll observe the use of grammar and scientific terms. You’ll notice sentence structure, and all that. There is nothing wrong with following such good models to prepare and structure your own paper. To be a good writer, learn from other better writers.

4/ Gather plenty of suitable materials

Your manuscript can not be better than the information gathered. A good literature searching skills cannot be overemphasized as a basic requirement in scientific writing. A good source of information is key in this regards, although a very big challenge as access is highly limited to African researchers because most institutions do not subscribe to research materials databases. However, having good search skills and using tools like Google Scholar, ResearchGate, Academia, etc can help you in gathering materials. And access to these is free of charge.When you source information from materials, do not forget to note them to avoid referencing problems later.

5/ Organise the information carefully

I have seen writers that make their writing spot look like marketplace, with papers scattered all over the place. I wonder how those guys write successfully. For me, I cannot do the same. I create folders for every writing project for the manuscript versions and for reference materials.This makes it easier to find materials and saves a lot of time. Robert A. Day states: “The preparation of a scientific paper has less to do with literary skill than with organization.” Before you begin any writing create folders for them in your computer and plan a backup strategy either on Dropbox, Box, Sync, Google Drive or any other cloud service. All these have free versions you can use for a start.

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